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You want my opinion? Victoria University is failing its queer students. There is currently no tangible queer support provided by the university, nor is there a permanent space for queer students on (any) campus.
The need for safe spaces is so often dismissed, almost always by those with the privilege to not require them. It’s easy to not understand the need for something if a lack of it doesn’t affect you personally. To a white person, Māori or Pasifika-specific support structures may seem unimportant. To an able-bodied person, an access ramp is an option (not a necessity). To a man, female/non-binary person support spaces can seem exclusionary. To a cis person, trans inclusiveness could seem redundant. To a straight person, queer support or safe spaces may seem like excessive pandering.
There are many reasons why having a safe space is important to any minority. When you form a part of a marginalised group, most spaces are unsafe by default. UniQ has dedicated several columns so far this year to exploring (in very brief detail) some of the ways in which the queer community is ostracised, othered, and made to feel outside of ‘normal’ society. Sometimes we want to feel like our freedom of expression is not suppressed—like we won’t suffer verbal abuse for the way we are dressed, how we identify, or whose hand we are holding. Sometimes we want to just exist in a space without being asked to justify our presence, or to represent our whole group in a debate or a discussion. Sometimes we don’t want to debate. Sometimes we want to shout about our frustrations without being dismissed or minimised. Sometimes we don’t want to speak. Safe spaces provide a place where those within a marginalised community can escape that background noise of demarcation and limitation.
Other prominent New Zealand universities have shown their recognition of the importance of their queer students by setting aside a part of their campuses to provide this space, as well as providing structural support from within the university itself.
Auckland University recognises LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and/or intersex) as an equity group, has an LGBTI staff and students network, provides resources and mechanisms for the use of preferred names and pronouns, and has Queerspace—a permanent queer space managed by AUSA’s Queer Rights Officer. They also offer a huge amount of queer resources and information on their website, including rainbow groups within each faculty.
Otago University provides a queer permanent space within their student support house, has a Queer Friendly Staff Network, runs Queer Awareness Workshops for staff, students, and non-university groups, and has a full time Queer Support Coordinator, who provides pastoral care and support for queer students, supervises the queer mentors, and maintains their queer library (!!!) in their—you guessed it—permanent space.
Victoria University has… nothing. There is no structural queer support provided by the university at all. No network of queer staff and students exists. No mechanism for listing preferred names and pronouns is available. There are no rainbow groups in each faculty. We have no permanent space. UniQ contact information is available on the Victoria website—as of only 2016.
Doing the research for this piece was intensely depressing. While I had an idea of what other universities were providing for their queer students, I had absolutely no idea how in depth it was. The structural support and encouragement from other NZ universities makes Victoria’s silence deafening.
Victoria has fallen desperately behind its counterparts. Especially in Wellington—the “coolest little capital” and self-proclaimed hub of acceptance—shouldn’t we have the best and most comprehensive queer support of any university in New Zealand? Queer students deserve a space on campus, and they deserve full and inclusive structural support from the university itself. On other campuses UniQ is free to be simply a social club, organising parties and quiz nights. At Victoria, UniQ picks up the support slack that the university has let fall by the wayside. This is a ludicrously huge ask of a group made up entirely of volunteering students—the majority of whom are already juggling full time study, work, and other extra-curricular commitments.
It’s time that queer students at Victoria have a safe space on campus. A space without fear of slurs, harassment, or attacks. A space of healing, acceptance, and encouragement. A space to call our own.